All posts by Rich Trott

Monitor Remote System Clock Via HTTP Headers

Shibboleth authentication via simpleSAMLphp broke on one of our apps when the system clock on the Shibboleth server drifted more than a minute into the future.

I am not the administrator of the Shibboleth server. But it occured to me that even with no shell access to the server, I could detect clock drift by examining the time stamp in the HTTP headers from the server.

So, I wrote a Node script to use in a crontab to monitor the remote server’s clock accuracy.

Edu Mobile Web Performance Peanut Butter Cup

A sample waterfall and screenshot from WebPagetest

Dave Olsen’s site offers a Higher Ed Mobile Directory that lists higher education mobile web sites.

And Patrick Meenan’s awesome WebPagetest site has an API that allows for the automation of performance testing of web sites with actual devices.

Allow me to smash these two great things together and present my edu mobile web performance Reese’s peanut butter cup.

I screen-scrape Olsen’s list and have a Node.js script that instructs WebPagetest to load and reload each of the sites on an iPhone, measuring the performance.

The results end up in a publicly available Google spreadsheet.

I expect to update the spreadsheet at least once a day.

I am excited about this data to an unhealthy degree. More to come, as I look more closely at various sites to see what they’re doing really well and not-so-well.

Speeding Mobile Site Loading

After having used Lightning Touch to greatly speed up the interface for UCSF Mobile, it was time to improve load and render times.

What really set me down this path was discovering Mobitest. Their results will assign a decile for your site’s load time. Being unhealthily competitive, I of course wanted to see m.ucsf.edu in the top tier with the adorable “90th Percentile” indicator.

Mission accomplished.

I went down a load of dead ends in the process. Here’s what worked for me (and a few things that didn’t).

Continue reading Speeding Mobile Site Loading

Fighting Documentation Ennui

I recently had to add a map to the UCSF Mobile Maps site.  To remember how to do it, I had to watch a series of videos I made after I did it the first time around.  (Sorry, I didn’t have my presentation mojo happening, but the information is good.)

I could have documented what I did in a more conventional way, but here’s the thing: I wouldn’t have been as meticulous.  I would have included what I felt was the minimum that I would need to repeat the task.  I would have glossed over things that were obvious to me because they were fresh on my mind. But after months of not thinking about the task, going back to that sort of documentation would have meant that there would be substantial gaps.

By creating something that would live on YouTube, where I knew others would see it, I was motivated to be complete in my documentation.

It’s tempting to focus on things that aren’t very important when it comes to documentation.  People like to create documentation templates, for example, wherein they try to have a section for every imaginable category of content that might be in a document.  Most of the time, there will be tons of unused sections when the real documentation is written. And then the technique backfires. If someone is given a documentation template that is not even wrong, then there’s an excellent chance that they will just fill out the minimum that they can get away with and move on to a more meaningful task. In other words, they will just create bad documentation.

Of course, that’s not to say something ridiculous, like “All documentation templates are bad.” A template can be great for someone who doesn’t know where to begin or otherwise wants direction, especially if the template is reasonably succinct.  (That said, an example of stellar documentation is usually better than a template.)

And there’s a lot that can be improved in my YouTube documentation.  (A video is a terrible way to pass along a shell script.)

But, ultimately, nothing beats a documentation method and format that excites the documenter.

Going Small with Mobile Web Framework

A few weeks back, on a developer conference call for the Mobile Web Framework, Ike Lin from UCSD presented data about the network payload size of various higher education mobile web site home pages.

UCSF’s mobile web site did pretty well in the comparison, but there was room for improvement.

Those improvements have since been implemented.  This short video discusses what tools were used and how effective each was.

Tools discussed are: